Thanks to the advent of Zoom pub quizzes, I hear most of my music nowadays in ten-second snippets, tiny baited hooks for the fish who work in my brain’s sound archives. Cutting off just before they reach any give-away lyrics, they’re designed for maximum frustration. You’re not just competing against the other teams in their little squares on your screen, you’re competing against the forces of your own forgetfulness and the ticking clock. It’s the Music Olympics. You wear each correct answer like a medal.
It leads me to think about the level on which we can ‘know’ a song, a scale which ranges from “not a clue, mate,” to “It was only a kiss, it was only a kiss!” but the grey areas in between those extremes are where it gets interesting. There are songs like Nina Simone’s “Sinnerman,” whose lyrics you know from when it was sampled into that banger of a house track by Felix Da Housecat. There are songs like Boyzone’s “Picture of You” which you forgot even existed but learned by heart aged six, and can still sing all the lyrics without even trying. There are classical pieces you know a single movement of, like “O Fortuna” from Karl Orff’s “Carmina Burana,” but have only cursory knowledge of the unheard majority of the work. There are even those sneaky sequences which make you think you recognise a song: you hear Radiohead’s “No Surprises,” but it’s just the doorbell ringing in the house of a contestant who hasn’t muted their microphone. Damnit.
In much the same way people are now writing music for the age of TikTok, cutting the length of songs and moving the chorus ever earlier, perhaps the lockdown will spawn a similar movement of music written for online pub quizzes. We’ll leave this period of quarantine with a pile of songs whose titles aren’t repeated in the lyrics, sung by singers who sound like Johnny Cash or Joan Baez, but aren’t. Songs will be born with infrasound embedded to scupper Shazam. Others will copy just enough of a sequence to trick you into thinking you know it, then veer off in a different direction to avoid a plagiarism battle. EDM will lose out in the battle of music genre acronyms to PQM.
Knowing the all-important details of these songs will be the difference between an amateur and a gold-medallist: the audio equivalent of dropping XI into a crowded Scrabble board. I look forward to seeing the first Music Olympics world champion crowned in Tokyo 2021, while a song very similar to their national anthem plays over the tannoy.
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